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The system we have has to be balanced. Any noble Lords who have been members of local authoritiesthere are several hereare well aware of the high cost of having an enforcement system. The good signage to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred, is expensive, particularly where it relies on paint, which has to be frequently renewed, and the staff have to have the training to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred. Training depends on two things: it costs money and it depends on the contractors not paying the lowest possible wages they can, just to get somebody on two legs, but having some selectivity about whom they choose to carry out the enforcement. You will not get one without the other.
I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, refer to buses. I am probably the only person in the House who actually rides on buses and speaks about them regularly. The biggest interference with bus operation is illegally parked vehicles; it costs the taxpayer huge
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I do not want to prolong the debate because the day has been long enough. Perhaps the guidance wants clearing up, but I believe that it is not appropriate for the Government to take to themselves any more powers to dictate what local authorities should do. I should like some reassurance from the Minister on that point.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for promoting this debate. I have been on the Floor of this House for much of today. It shows the variety, uniqueness and strength of this House that we have gone from discussing Baby P and childrens processes this morning, through considering the future of Heathrow Airport this afternoon, to hearing anecdotal evidence about parking in London this evening.
I speak in this debate as both gamekeeper and poacher. I am a road user and have been on the receiving end of more than one fine. I have had my car clamped in Westminster. I am also the leader of one of the countrys largest authorities and therefore know the problems that large authorities face. However, I speak today from the Front Benches on behalf of the Conservative Party.
I hope that none of us wants to see a lot of detailed legislation about what local authorities should do in this respect. There is certainly a need for information and clarity on these issuesthe noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred particularly to information about blue badges and consistency of approachbut I hope that no one suggests detailed legislation.
My noble friend Lord Lucas made several points. Parliament should ensure that the motorist is subject to a fair system, feels that it is fair and understands it. We have heard a lot of anecdotal evidence. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne highlighted a matter about which he is extremely upset. He seemed to ask a fair question and I hope that the Minister can tell him how the adjudicating system works.
My noble friend Lord Lucas also said that local authorities make money out of parking and traffic regimes, and there is no doubt that some do. I do not like to harp on too much about my experience in Essex, but it is relevant to point out that it costs the county, working with the districts and boroughs, around £600,000 a year to enforce the system and that the income from it is less than that amountwe are actually looking at whether we can break even on it. Across the country, the whole system costs rather than makes money for local government.
Several interesting points came out of the debate, one of which, reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, was that London Councils has a part to play. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, all the problems that we have heard about seem to be in London, many of them around Westminster or in the four local authority areas that noble Lord, Lord Dubs, talked aboutthey are four good local authorities; they have four-star ratings and are generally well received. Some consistency of information would be good. London Councils, an organisation to which all London boroughs belong, could help by promoting information across London. I accept that coverage would not always be consistent, because, as others have said, street signs and information in some areas are not as evident as they should be, but London Councils could play a big part. Nationally, the Local Government Association could play a big part. Information could be put together so that local government as a whole gives people the information that they need.
There are clauses in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, whose Committee stage in this House starts on Monday, which state that local government should give information to the public about many more things. I hope that we might all agree that a little line could go in it somewhere about information on parking. As I will be debating in Committee on that Bill, I may suggest that. A lot of the debate and discussion this afternoon has been on the lack of information about how it operates, or the consistency of the operation across London in particular.
I, too, have had quite a long day, and I do not have much more to say. However, I hope that the Minister will not go into great detail about detailed legislation. We can talk about local authorities doing their own thing, as local people want, but I hope we can move to a position where there is more consistent information and consistent operating, with fairness to the motorist and those who live and work in these streets.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for calling for this debate. I am in a wonderful position, in that I think I agree with everybody who has contributed. However, I shall make the curious point that I agree only in part.
There are a few things running through this debate. I do not think that anyone here is calling for no regulation in parking. We all recognise that proportionate regulation is absolutely essential to us. I say firmly that we believeand we will discuss this next week, as has been saidin local government, not local administration. There is a price in terms of variation, and I shall touch on that later. All noble Lords have made some comment about signage and information, and that is indeed important. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made the point about the problem of confusion between boroughs, and so on. Yes, but there is a price for local government. In effective local government, there will be differences between boroughs; that is entirely reasonable.
On the blue badge point, we accept that there are some problems. At present, four central London boroughs are exempt from operating the blue badge scheme.
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The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, kindly pointed out that there are a lot more cars on the roadand there are. That is way we need proportionate regulation. Central government does not believe that this is an area for central micromanagement. There may be some opportunity for simplification but the role is a local government one. Outsourcing causes some problems, but it creates some efficiencies. We certainly take the point about signage. Outsourcing involves external firms coming in and the Government have helped the BPA create some national guidance for its members. We hope that that will start to have the appropriate effect.
On the matter of bailiffs, I think the noble Baronesss experience has a resonance for all of us. The Government introduced the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. The reform package of measures will lead to a more highly qualified, better trained and professional industry. We hope some of the points referred to will not happen in future, or at least on incredibly rare occasions.
The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, mentioned the congestion charge. I have the harshest possible note on this, saying that it is a matter for the Mayor of London, who is responsible for setting and administrating the process. If I can say anything more useful than that, I shall write to the noble Lord.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am afraid the Minister is not correct. No regulations have been passed by Parliament that govern the application or the operation of the appeal system. It is his responsibility, not the mayors.
The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, pointed out that local government involvement in traffic has been a success. Most people would agree that local government is doing a better job than the police did. He made the good point that we are looking for compliance rather than enforcement. I liked the point he made about bus lanes getting better. His compliance points were issues that trouble all of us involved in this problem. Foreign
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The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made the point that there are reputational aspects in local authorities exercising local discretion. That is right. Local government is about reputation, being compatible to the electorate and balancing interests. It is good to hear of an occasion when Westminster has got it right. I thought the noble Baroness gave a series of good examples of where local government has adapted to local needs. There is some guidance on sign heights, so the noble Baroness will not have to look up when that guidance works. Departmental guidance to local authorities has clarified the position on loading bays, and it has been welcomed by the Freight Transport Association.
I am sorry about the meters. In many ways, the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, brought out the dilemmas about them. The Westminster experiment seems to have gone well, but it may not go well for an individual. I believe there is a requirement for a limited number of cash machines, but there is a dilemma, and I suspect we will go steadily down the mobile phone road as we become more used to it. It is reliable, and it does not have the problem of cash on the streets. We feel that local authorities should do their best to co-ordinate their policies across boundaries.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is not alone in riding the buses. For two years, I had the proud privilege of being the chairman of London Transport and used buses regularly to keep in touch. I am glad there has been no push back on bus lanes in this debate. People accept that the regulation that has helped buses has been sensible, proportional and balanced. We agree with the general view that staff skills are important. We also agree with the general point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that we do not want micromanagement from national government, except perhaps in some areas.
I shall make a few general points that go back to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. When we asked local authorities to manage the traffic on their roads, we asked them to do a difficult job. Some of them do it extremely well; others do it less well. Deciding what is good and what is less good is not easy.
Local authorities set down in locally made orders the procedures that drivers must follow. A traffic regulation order, or a traffic management order in London, may prohibit, restrict or regulate, et cetera. As noble Lords point out, the objective is to keep traffic moving, improve road safety and improve the environmentor all three.
The contents of the traffic regulation order and its making is wholly a matter for the local authority. However, it must be made in accordance with legal
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The Road Traffic Act 1991 made it mandatory for local authorities in London, and optional for local authorities outside London, to take over from the police service the enforcement of all parking. The 1991 Act helped curtail illegal parking and ensure that those who chose to break the regulations paid a financial penalty. In London, it provided the framework for legislation promoted by the local authorities to enforce certain moving traffic matters. London authorities enforced bus lanes from 1996 and measures, such as yellow box junctions, banned turns and pedestrian zones from 2003. In November 2005, English local authorities received the power to enforce bus lanes.
The Traffic Management Act 2004 rationalised and strengthened the 1991 Act. Regulations were drafted to bring its parking provisions into force in the light of a wide-ranging and well informed debate, notably a review by the Transport Committee in another place.
The department was advised by an expert group that represented all sides of the parking debatelocal authorities, adjudicators and, most importantly, motorists and road users. With their help, the new framework of regulations and statutory guidance came into force on 31 March 2008.
That statutory guidance is a new part of the framework and stems from provisions added to the Act during its passage through Parliament. It sets out the matters to which local authorities must have regard and covers issues not amenable to legislation, such as having clear objectives andas crucially mentioned by a number of noble Lordsinforming the public. The objective of this guidance is to secure many of the changes that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, wishes to see.
Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 is not yet fully in force. The Government plan to put in place regulations that replace the current powers to enforce bus lanes and certain moving traffic matters. These regulations are likely largely to replicate those for parking. Therefore, before we proceed we need to assess the effectiveness of the new parking framework as well as that currently in place for moving traffic. I welcome this opportunity to assure the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we will consider whether any of his concerns can be addressed by the regulations and the statutory guidance.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and other noble Lords who have spoken, that enforcement must be lawful and should be proportionate and fair. Our statutory guidance to local authorities makes this clear. I differ in how any transgressions are best tackled. In this country, we have local government not local administration. The Government do not intend to change that situation where the enforcement of parking and certain other moving traffic matters are concerned. Local governmentthis is crucialis every bit as accountable for its actions as is central government. Officials are accountable to councillors, and councillors are accountable to the electorate; they are not accountable to the Secretary of State or even to the Prime Minister.
However, if a local authority does not comply with the law, either wilfully or inadvertently, procedures are in place to enable action to be taken. An adjudicator has the power to direct a local authority to cancel a penalty charge notice in a number of circumstances. More recently, and importantly, adjudicators now have the power to refer back to the local authoritys chief executive for reconsideration cases where a contravention has taken place but in mitigating circumstances. I hope that filters out some of these examples of unreasonableness. Having been a chief executive, although not of a local authority, the last thing you want is paper crossing your desk. You make sure that your people are behaving reasonably. Some wanted adjudicators to have the power to decide such cases. That is not appropriate, as it involves making policy and adjudicators do not have the democratic remit to make policy. The departments statutory guidance will play a key role in these cases.
It is not unlawful for a local authority to fail to defend a case that has gone to appeal. Local authorities in London already pay a financial penalty if they do not deal properly with a representation, and so it goes to appeal. Nor is it unlawful to have a net surplus of income from parking. The Government have not said that parking enforcement should never make a surplus. We have said that revenue should not be an objective of parking enforcement, nor should authorities set targets for revenue or for the number of penalty charge notices that are served. Where the demand for parking is high, an effective enforcement regime may well make more money than it costs to run.
The departments guidance says that local authorities should not continue to take enforcement action when an adjudicators decision has indicated that the provisions in place are not lawful. One of the most significant causes of unlawful enforcement action is when traffic signs are incorrect or not in accordance with the relevant traffic regulation order. The Government are undertaking a root and branch review of traffic signs, including those that indicate parking regulations, and the process of putting them in place. Following wide consultation that will include local authorities and road users, our objective is to enhance the system to meet the future needs of the road user.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggests that authorities should be made to refund any penalty charges paid when enforcement action has been taken when the local authority knows from previous adjudication decisions that the relevant traffic signs are faulty. The Government have encouraged local authorities to do this, but it is a local decision. If the authority has taken enforcement action when the provisions in place are not lawful, it may be in breach of its statutory duty. There is no specific remedy in legislation for this, but a claimant may be able to bring a civil action against the local authority for breach of statutory duty.
Legal action can, however, be expensive and there is other redress available. A member of the public who considers that a local authority has not acted properly and that maladministration has taken place can ask the Local Government Ombudsman to investigate the matter. Investigating systematic maladministration is distinct from deciding whether a correct decision has
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The Audit Commission has the ability to scrutinise a local authoritys parking management performance, and has published a number of inspection reports on individual councils parking services. Concerns may also be referred to the district auditor, who acts as watchdog of public finance.
We will, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, examine whether there is scope to strengthen the powers of these bodies to assess whether a local authority is acting unlawfully. If an individual has clear evidence of widespread and serious malpractice in a local authority, Ministers have said that they will raise that matter with the council leader if the individual has not been able to take action through one of the organisations whose job it is to scrutinise authorities.
We have put in place a regime for parking that should mean firm but fair enforcement, and we will do the same for the enforcement of bus lanes and certain moving traffic matters. The responsibility for enforcement will remain with local government, not local administration. Helping local authorities understand and implement the policies in that statutory guidance will be one of our key tasks in the next few years. We will do more to talk with local authorities, at the official and the political level, and spread good practice. Those whose performance is generally goodit has been acknowledged that this is true of many authorities, and many authorities are improvingcan set an example to those whose performance is not quite so good. The full engagement of local elected members in setting the policies and the procedures used can bring about a step improvement in a local authority whose performance is a little lacking in some respects.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, will the noble Lord be good enough to confirm that he will write to me on the points that I raised, to overcome theif I may say sorather inadequate reply which he gave me a few moments ago?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It has been, as ever, an education for me. I am delighted to find that even those who speak from great local authority experience by and large agree with the basic points I want to make. We agree that we all want effective regulation. We do not want bad back offices or to have bus lanes not enforced. I remember that it was incredibly annoying when they were not enforced. There you were being law abiding, and the people who were not were getting a great advantage on you and risking nothing. As I say, we all want regulation to be effective.
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