It has been known for decades that parking is a intractable issue where it is impossible to meet demand for car parking in popular locations without ruining them by converting them into massive car parks, not that everyone remembers this annoying detail though.
Mr Pickles in particular has been pushing a more simplistic argument for a year now, that parking restrictions are often there simply at allow local councils to make money of honest hard-working motorists. He promised a ban on most CCTV enforcement of parking and it looks as though he will now get his ban.
The change to the law was debated in the Commons last week along with a number of unrelated issues. Given the confusion of unrelated topics being discussed, and the importance of this to our cause, I thought it would be useful to lay out the arguments on both side in one place.
The short version
The debate was facilitated by Tom Brake, the deputy speaker who presented the governments position and responded to some of the questions raised by MPs questions. When pressed on the effect that the change would have on pedestrians at the end of the debate he said “I apologise if I have not been brave enough to venture into the other areas that he would like to discuss in relation to parking, but first, I would be ruled out of order, and secondly, we all know that when it comes to parking issues, it is a lose-lose situation whatever decision is taken”.
If we simplify this debate down to one of children’s heroes and villans, then John Redwood (Con) would definitely playing the role of a villain, and given the subject matter possibly Cruella de Vil from 101 dalmations comes to mind. Redwood reinforced the government line that car parking is used by manipulative councils to prey on ‘vulnerable’ motorists as an easy source of cash in difficult times. He reassured the house that he supported good parking controls (phew), before explaining that this was only if they were required for traffic management purposes (ie only where they are used for the greater benefit of motorists) but summarised the current situation as “irritating”, “over-bureaucratic” and “over-regulated” with “confusing, complex and poorly signed” parking in too many places. He considered this a small first step that did not go nearly far enough, and suggested that drivers often didn’t even bother even to try to park, because they were likely to fined for behaving “perfectly reasonably”.
Kelvin Hopkins (Lab), definitely the good guy in our story, reminded the house that the victims in all this were pedestrians (thank you Kelvin!) and many voters wanted parking laws enforced properly and that this change would make this harder to achieve. He noted that all MPs had ‘bulging post-bag’ from pedestrians on the subject.
Gordon Marsden (Lab) also opposed the changes. He described CCTV as being a vital tool to support traffic and safety enforcement and questioned why the proposal had been introduced so rapidly, and in advance of the responses from the consultation had been made available. He suggested that the issue need much more careful consideration and should not have been bundled into the Deregulation Bill as it had with so many other issues. He suggested that the issue was a “hot potato” being passed between the Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government and one that that DfT Ministers were opposed the move.
James Duddridge (Con) sought clarification that CCTV could still be used to enforce zig-zag lines in front of schools. Tom Brake responded saying that the the government would allow the use of CCTV cameras where there is a strong safety argument for doing so including in restricted areas outside schools.
Jim Cunningham (Lab) asked the government to comment on profit made from parking. Tom Brake responded by noting that it was very clear that local authorities could not raise funds for other purposes from parking enforcement, but could use the money from parking fines to invest in transport and some environmental measures.
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Tom Brake: This group of amendments covers accident investigation, parking contravention, driving, and private hire vehicle licensing.
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Tom Brake: Government new clause 25 relates to changes in the use of CCTV for issuing parking tickets by post. The Government are concerned that the use of CCTV for on-street parking is no longer proportionate, and that local councils over-employ it to deal with contraventions when it would be more appropriate and fair for such contraventions to be handled by a civil enforcement officer. We have therefore committed ourselves to ban the use of CCTV for on-street parking enforcement. That was announced in September and re-stated in December 2013 as part of a package of measures designed to support high streets.
Under existing measures, when a CCTV camera is used by a civil enforcement officer to identify a parking offence, a penalty charge notice can be issued to the offender by post. In practice, that means that drivers may receive a parking ticket through the post several weeks after an incident, which makes it difficult to challenge the alleged contravention.
The Government are concerned that a proliferation of CCTV cameras for offences such as parking may undermine public acceptance of their wider beneficial use. To introduce the change, we need to amend legislation to prevent local authorities from relying so heavily on CCTV for parking enforcement.
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that the new clause relates to parking, but will he confirm that CCTV cameras can still be used for issuing fines via the post for other offences, such as parking on zig-zag lines in front of schools?
Tom Brake: I will come on to that point in a few moments.
New clause 25 will amend part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 to prevent the automatic issuing by post of fines for parking offences, and instead require that notification of penalty charges is given by a notice attached to the vehicle.
The new clause includes a wider power to cater for an outright ban on CCTV if that is considered necessary in future. However, the Government intend to protect the use of CCTV cameras where there is a strong safety argument for doing so. Their use will therefore be banned in all but the following limited circumstances: when stopped in restricted areas outside a school; when stopped where prohibited on a red route or clearway; when parked where prohibited in a bus lane; or when stopped on a restricted bus stop or stand.
Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): What discussions has the right hon. Gentleman had with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about his statement at the weekend that local authorities are not able to make a profit from CCTV cameras, and what does he think about that?
Tom Brake: I have not had any discussions with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government since his announcement at the weekend. It is very clear that local authorities cannot issue parking fines to raise funds for other purposes, but that they can use the money from parking fines to invest in transport and some environmental measures. The Government are concerned that the family of local authorities as a whole has a surplus of about £630 million in funds raised through parking tickets. We believe that we have taken a sensible and proportionate approach by ensuring the power has the ability to exempt key parts of the road network so that we reach the right balance of fair enforcement in the right places.
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Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): … First, I shall comment about what the Minister said about the CCTV measure. The short notice of the introduction of the amendment—it appeared only at the end of last week—suggests that it was a political hot potato, passed between the Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government. There have long been rumours that the DCLG intended to scrap the use of CCTV even in sensitive areas, in contrast to the wishes of DFT Ministers. Over the weekend, press coverage of the issue was almost entirely dominated by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us on whether DFT Ministers decided to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) has called a “pickled policy”, or whether this is simply an example of what the Government’s frequent use of the Alice in Wonderland principle of sentence first and trial afterwards.
It concerns us greatly that the measure was introduced so late in the day. It is at odds with the consultative approach adopted by the Department for Transport. A range of organisations, including Living Streets, the Local Government Association, the British Parking Association, the Freight Transport Association, Disabled Motorists UK, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and Guide Dogs for the Blind, have made their concerns known, yet the Government published the new measure before seeing those responses.
There are of course legitimate concerns that councils have been using cameras as a routine means of parking enforcement; that is wrong. There have also been problems where stickers, such as resident permits and blue badges, have not been visible and drivers have wrongly been issued with tickets; that is an occurrence that we should make as infrequent as possible. It is understandable that drivers become frustrated when the first they hear of an infringement is a letter through the post, without the opportunity to discuss the circumstances with an enforcement officer. So we agree with the Select Committee on Transport that there should be greater oversight of the way in which local authorities use cameras to institute penalty charges, but that could be done through statutory and operational guidance, which is exactly what the groups I just mentioned would have liked.
CCTV remains vital for parking and for traffic and safety enforcement in certain areas where the use of parking officers is not practical: schools, bus stops, bus lanes, junctions and pedestrian crossings all come into that category. We hear from the Government response to their consultation that those areas are to be exempted and that CCTV could still be used in these circumstances, but that is not on the face of the Bill and we would welcome confirmation that this is the case and that plans will be put into practice.
Mr Redwood: Does the hon. Gentleman understand that there are times when a camera-based system can get the wrong end of the stick? A constituent of mine was prosecuted for moving into a bus lane; they did so to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle, but the council still went ahead with the prosecution.
Mr Marsden: The right hon. Gentleman raises an instance of which he has the full details but I do not. I will not comment on the particular point but will comment on the general point, which is as I have just said: these matters are best dealt with by discussions with the enforcement officer before the ticket is issued. To that extent, I think we are at one.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): The reality is that if we relax legislation of this kind, especially when the exemptions are not on the face of the Bill, certain people will take advantage of the situation—drive in bus lanes because they think they might not get caught, for example. There were cases some years ago in which CCTV of cars in bus lanes picked up many vehicles that were driven by criminals on the run for other causes. Once a criminal, always a criminal, and such people will take advantage.
Mr Marsden: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point that underlines why the Government should have given much more careful consideration to the thoughtful proposals and sometimes quite detailed comments submitted by the various groups before bringing forward these measures as part of this rag-bag Bill.
We do not object to the Government’s amendments reining in the use of CCTV in place of everyday traffic enforcement but, as is obvious from the comments we have already heard today, the whole House would welcome answers from the Minister, so we can ensure that vital spots such as bus routes and school runs continue to be protected by CCTV and we know the details of how that will be assured in legislation.
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Mr Redwood: … I want to concentrate on the issue of car parking. I am grateful that the Government have brought forward, again, an extremely modest proposal to deal with the fact that many motorists feel they are picked on by councils that have turned parking controls into a way of making easy money out of them. The proposal goes only a little way in the direction I would like the Government to take. I understand the Minister’s difficulties, because we need quite a lot of local decision making, but the idea behind his proposal is that simple camera enforcement is not always the right way to go. I gave an example in an intervention to show how camera enforcement of a bus lane proposal could be very misleading and unfair to the individual concerned, who was trying to keep out of the way of an emergency vehicle. That is not always captured by the fixed position of the camera, which concentrates on the bus lane. There could be similar problems with parking enforcement.
The problem, which is a large one for many electors, comes from too many parking restraints and restrictions that have not been well thought through. Once again, Members have rightly defended good parking controls. I am very much in favour of good parking controls. I agree that we need to stop people parking on blind bends, near pedestrian crossings or in places where their vehicle could obstruct the line of sight and endanger safety. I also agree that we need parking restrictions on roads where the parking would get in the way of the flow of traffic, because that not only impedes the traffic and stops people getting to work or taking their children to school, but can create danger by causing frustration among motorists.
It makes sense to have sensible parking restrictions that ensure that the flow on roads is reasonable, junctions have good sight lines and are safe, bends have the best sight lines possible, and so forth. That should be common ground in the House, and I do not think the Minister is trying to stop councils doing that or enforcing those sensible restrictions strongly and fairly, as we want. But the type of parking restriction that we may well be talking about here, where some relaxation is needed, is where a piece of road which the council designates as safe and fair for people to park on at certain times of day or certain days of the week and not others is subject to such complicated regulation that sometimes a law-abiding motorist cannot work out from the local signs and practices whether the parking regulation applies or not. For example, do the parking restrictions apply on bank holidays? Often, the sign is silent on that point. Is the sign clear about whether different rules apply on Sundays? Is the sign close enough to the parking area in question? Are there different restrictions on different sides of the same street, as sometimes happens in London? Do we know where one set of restrictions ends and another begins?
There can also be variable bus lane times, and it can be difficult to keep up with the changing regulations. This shows that there are circumstances in which a council thinks it perfectly reasonable to allow parking in a particular area or use of a bus lane at certain times but not at others. The motorist could be in genuine doubt about the restrictions, or perhaps feel that they were unfair or frivolous because they did not fall into the category of restrictions that are essential to ensuring that traffic can flow and that safety sightlines are maintained.
We can use this little debate to probe the underlying problem that we are trying to address. We can also use it to allow the House of Commons to tell councils that some of them are overdoing parking restrictions or are chopping and changing the regulations too often during the day or on different days of the week. Perhaps those regulations have not been properly thought through. Perhaps the enforcement is unfair, or too sharp. If someone has been delayed by three minutes while paying for something in a shop, they could find that they have committed an offence because they could not get back to their car within the given time on their ticket. People often have to be quite prescient in those circumstances. They need to know exactly how long it will take them to get to the shop, find their goods, queue to pay for them at the till and get out again. They do not want to overpay for what can be quite expensive parking, but if they get it slightly wrong, they can end up with a big fine. That is why people think that this is a nasty lottery in which the councils are the only winners, and camera enforced parking restrictions can be even worse for the individuals concerned.
So, one cheer for the Government for realising that this is a big issue and coming up with their modest proposal on camera enforcement, but may we please have some more, because this does not solve the overall problem? Solving the overall problem will help parades of shops and town centres in places where trade is not good. This irritating, over-bureaucratic, over-regulated parking is one reason that people do not bother even to try to park in those areas, because they think they are going to end up with a fine for behaving perfectly reasonably.
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Kelvin Hopkins: … I do not believe anyone has spoken up today for those most affected by parking. Those who watched the news reports last night no doubt saw some drivers, typically male drivers, saying, “We don’t want too much parking regulation. We’d like a bit less regulation and a bit more freedom.” It was all a bit “Jack the Lad”. On the other hand, we heard a middle-aged woman saying, “I want to see the parking laws enforced properly, because we do not want to be affected by it, and if people break the law they should face the penalties of the law.” I strongly agree with her.
I am sure we have all had postbags bulging with complaints about parking problems, and it is nearly always from people who have been abused by people who have parked irregularly. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) kept confusing the rules on parking and where people can park with the enforcement of those rules. We are talking about enforcement. If rules are not enforced, it means that people are getting away with breaking the law.
Mr Redwood: I did not confuse them at all. I drew the distinction. I said that the reason people are fed up with the enforcement is that, in many cases, they do not think the rules are fair.
Kelvin Hopkins: If the right hon. Gentleman wants to challenge those rules, that is fine, but we are talking about the enforcement of the rules that exist. To most people, I think, the rules are probably reasonable, but the enforcement sometimes falls down, and I think that using CCTV to enforce those rules is absolutely right. I do not want the rules to be weakened, and I do not want the enforcement to be weakened. I want to help people who are affected badly by parking. For example, people park across my neighbour’s driveway when football matches are on. It is completely unacceptable that he should be blocked into or out of the driveway by other people parking across the it; that is simply not on.
These problems may not be as important as the investigation of accidents at sea, or the potential dangers involved in the licensing of private hire vehicles, but they do affect people and people are concerned about them. I want strong enforcement of the parking rules to continue. As the right hon. Member for Wokingham said, we may sometimes challenge the way in which the rules operate, but they should be enforced none the less.
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Tom Brake: First, I wish to respond to the points made by the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden), who is not in his place. He started by discussing CCTV exemptions, which he wanted included in the Bill. I made it clear in my opening remarks precisely what the exemptions were, but to avoid doubt I will simply repeat them. CCTV cameras can still be used in relation to restricted areas outside a school; red routes or clearways; bus lanes, where parking is prohibited; and cases where a vehicle is stopped at a restricted bus stop or stand. That is very clear.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): The Minister has indicated where he intends exemptions to be made, but he has not answered the questions my hon. Friend put to him. Where will those exemptions be listed? Where will they be codified? Under what regulations will they be introduced? When will those regulations be laid?
Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I am sure we will shortly provide the clarity he seeks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) raised the issue of CCTV and parking, and asked when we would introduce regulations and commence the provision. Clearly we will do that as soon as is practicable after Royal Assent. He also suggested that we could restrict CCTV use through statutory guidance. There is a need to legislate; the difficulty at the moment is that local authorities are not supposed to use CCTV other than in exceptional circumstances, but its use is proliferating. We need to respond to that because CCTV is now being used routinely.
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Tom Brake: … My right hon. Friend went on to highlight other problems with parking, with which we, as Members of Parliament, are all too familiar. I apologise if I have not been brave enough to venture into the other areas that he would like to discuss in relation to parking, but first, I would be ruled out of order, and secondly, we all know that when it comes to parking issues, it is a lose-lose situation whatever decision is taken.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Does the Minister agree that one concern of citizens is the use of fines to raise funds? I checked Magna Carta 1297, which for these deregulatory purposes can be found in the volume of statutes from 1235 to 1770, and it is clause 14 that is, in part, being reinstated by this Bill.
Tom Brake: I did not know that Magna Carta touched on the matter of parking, but I am better informed as a result of my hon. Friend’s intervention.
Still on parking, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham touched on complicated parking signs and rules. Local authorities should ensure that signs are appropriate for parking restrictions. If they are not, drivers may complain to their council. If they receive a ticket, they have a free appeal to the local council and then a free appeal to the adjudicator if the council decides against them. I am sure that he is aware of that and will have referred many a constituent to the adjudicator in relation to disputes over parking tickets. The Government announced over the weekend that local residents and local firms will be able to demand a review of parking in their areas, including charges and the use of yellow lines.
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Tom Brake: … The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) wants parking laws enforced properly; well, so do I, and so do the Government. Local authorities will be able to enforce them properly by using traffic wardens, and nothing that we are doing will stop them doing so. I hope he will agree that, as I stated in my opening remarks, the issue is that local authorities have generated a surplus of £635 million by issuing parking tickets.
Kelvin Hopkins: Does the Minister accept that, by reducing CCTV surveillance of parking, he will reduce the number of convictions and make it easier to get away with parking illegally?
Tom Brake: That depends on how local authorities respond. If they use traffic wardens, there is no reason why what the hon. Gentleman has suggested will happen.