Christopher Chope contributions to the Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019


Fri 23rd November 2018 Parking (Code of Practice) Bill (Commons Chamber)
3rd reading: House of Commons
Report stage: House of Commons
42 interactions (1,681 words)
Fri 2nd February 2018 Parking (Code of Practice) Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
9 interactions (320 words)

Parking (Code of Practice) Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Christopher Chope Excerpts
Friday 23rd November 2018

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:09 p.m.

I commend the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) for his Bill and for the very sensible amendments that he has brought before the House. I assure him that I am not going to speak at length. I rise at this stage just to congratulate him and to assure him that he has the full support of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:10 p.m.

May I address some remarks to the amendments in my name, particularly amendments 7 and 8 to clause 1? Like everybody else in the Chamber, I think this is a really good piece of legislation, but it is dependent on the good will of the Government to ensure that something actually happens.

Too often, we pass legislation in this House, and months or years later we find that nothing much has happened as far as the Government are concerned. I give as an example the primary legislation passed in this House to limit public sector exit payments to £95,000. That was contained in the Enterprise Act 2016. The Government have still not implemented that provision. Despite promises more than a year ago that they were about to bring forward regulations, they have not even fulfilled those promises. The most recent information I have is that there will be a write-round before Christmas, and then they may have a consultation on the regulations next year. When the Government say, “Yes, we’re definitely going to do something about this”, as they did when that law was passed, there is quite often a gap between what is said and the reality.

It is against that background that I am seeking, in amendments 7 and 8, to tighten up the requirements on the Government to bring forward the code of practice. Currently, all the Bill says is:

“The Secretary of State must prepare a code of practice containing guidance”.

However, he may not prepare that code of practice for many months or many years, and we should learn from past mistakes.

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:12 p.m.

May I just say to my hon. Friend that so far, throughout this whole process, I have found the Government very helpful, with no sign of procrastination? Indeed, they have been very astute in already seeking views and starting the consultation process, with a working group looking at some of these aspects. I am certain his fears are misfounded.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:13 p.m.

I hope that is so. One way of establishing that my right hon. Friend is right would be if the Government readily accept amendments 7 and 8. Doing so would reinforce the good will of the Government in ensuring that they will bring forward their parking code in good time.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:13 p.m.

A time limit could be put into the legislation so that by such a time this should be done.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:14 p.m.

That is exactly the purpose of my amendments.

Amendment 7 would insert, in the first line of clause 1, that the Secretary of State,

“within twelve months of the day on which this Act is passed”,

must prepare a code of practice. That is pretty clear in bringing in a time limit and a requirement. I hope the Minister will be able to give an undertaking that the Government will bring forward a code of practice within 12 months. Some people may be impatient and say that they want it sooner, but under the terms of the Bill the Government have to consult before producing a code of practice, so I think it is reasonable to allow a period for the code of practice to be drawn up and consulted on.

If the amendment goes too far and is too extreme for the Government, amendment 8 is a modification as it would mean that the Secretary of State must “use his best endeavour” to prepare a code of practice. I do not know whether the Minister will say that those words are a meaningless addition, or that they would impose too tight a legal requirement on the Secretary of State.

Michael Tomlinson - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:15 p.m.

As always, my hon. Friend and neighbour considers these matters carefully, and I am listening carefully to his proposals. Given that the Bill’s sponsor has received reassurance on this point, surely the phrase “best endeavour” would be otiose, because the Government and the excellent Minister have said that these things will be brought forward. We simply do not need those words.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:16 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes a perfectly fair point, and I have tabled the amendment as a fall-back position—[Interruption.] Not a backstop, no. The amendment is a fall-back in case the Government do not accept amendment 7.

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:16 p.m.

May I say gently to my hon. Friend that if his amendments are accepted, they may cause some difficulty? If the Bill becomes law, the Government will need to go through a procurement process, which will take several months. The arbitrary time limit that he seeks to impose might mean that that procurement process could not properly take place.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:17 p.m.

With greatest respect, perhaps my right hon. Friend’s point is relevant to my other amendments that relate to the time the Act must be passed. I do not see how having to go through a procurement process will interfere with the code of practice, unless the Government propose to delegate the drawing up of that code to some consultant—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend says that the Government might want to do that. They might also feel the need to comply with the European Union procurement directive on this matter, but that is speculation.

My right hon. Friend has been—not obsessed, but very concerned about the abuse of private parking facilities for a long time, and this is a great opportunity to get legislation on the statute book and get something done. However, I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends who have great trust in the Government, that even if the Minister does not obstruct the Bill and exercises good will, as we have seen with public sector exit payments, there can be a big gap regarding those good intentions. I think the whole House supported the idea of a £95,000 cap on exit payments, yet two and a half years later there is no sign of that coming into effect, and the latest projection is that it will be sometime next year.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:18 p.m.

On amendment 7, how will the Secretary of State be judged on the requirement to “use his best endeavour” to carry this out within 12 months?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:19 p.m.

That very challenging question is not dissimilar to the questions that I asked the Government and Prime Minister about what enforcement mechanism there will be to ensure that “best endeavours” as referred to in the withdrawal agreement will be implemented. In answer to a parliamentary question from me, the Minister replied on 22 November:

“The reference to best endeavours in Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement is a legally binding commitment that requires the United Kingdom and the EU to conduct themselves so that the negotiations on the future relationship are meaningful. It prohibits inflexible or obstructive behaviour and obliges the parties to pay reasonable regard to the interests of the other party.”

So in answer to the hon. Gentleman, that is the precedent that would be established. If he thinks that that is full of clarity, then I am sure he will be eager to support my amendment.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

Presumably, whether best endeavours have been followed in the Brexit negotiations is likely to capture slightly more media coverage than whether best endeavours have been used in the introduction of the civil car parking code of practice.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

With the greatest respect, I do not understand why my hon. Friend says that. According to the Government, “best endeavours” is a legal term, so why can we not incorporate it in the Bill in the same way that it has been proposed that it should be incorporated in the EU withdrawal legislation?

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

My point is that in this instance best endeavours would always be in the eye of the beholder. The hon. Gentleman does not explain, in his amendments, how Ministers could be judged on whether they had used their best endeavours and what the consequences of any such judgment would be. Therefore, as an amendment—I know he is very careful about these sorts of things—it does not survive minimal scrutiny.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

In my submission, if an aggrieved member of the public felt that the Government had not been using their best endeavours to bring forward the code of practice and were thereby delaying the implementation of the will of Parliament, it would be open to that person to raise the matter by way of a judicial review, so there would be an enforcement mechanism.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

Is this amendment not a licence to take power away from this House and put it into the courts? This House should be responsible for its own legislation. If there had been a failure of a dilatory nature from the Government, then my hon. Friend could no doubt call them to account in this House. However, ceding power to the courts to make a decision on whether best endeavours have been used seems to me to be a complete abdication of responsibility.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

What my hon. Friend says is interesting if one applies the analogy of best endeavours to what is being discussed in the context of article 184 of the EU withdrawal agreement. In answer to another parliamentary question, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) the Minister with responsibility for exiting the European Union stated:

“the primary remedy would be that the party in default would be obliged to return to the negotiating table and modify its position. In the event that there was further non-compliance, remedies may be imposed under the processes established by the withdrawal agreement.”

It may be that my amendment is just as weak as article 184 of the proposed EU withdrawal agreement seems to be.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

indicated assent.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

I see the hon. Gentleman is expressing his strong agreement.

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

I think my hon. Friend is seeing shadows on the wall where they do not exist. The Government have made it quite clear that they are very supportive of the Bill. If I give him an undertaking to harass the Minister and make his life a misery if I think he is dragging his feet, will my hon. Friend not press his amendments?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

Is my right hon. Friend saying that he himself will undertake to harass the Minister? I am afraid that in the past my efforts at harassing the Government have proved manifestly unsuccessful. Of course, my right hon. Friend carries with him the distinction of being a former Deputy Chief Whip, so perhaps he has more influence than I have.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con) - Hansard

My hon. Friend should not be so dismissive of his own impact. As he will know, I was a sponsor of the Middle Level Bill, which is now the Middle Level Act 2018. His dutiful use of the procedures of the House ensured that it was a changed Bill. We do not necessarily need this at the moment, because we can rely on him being a dutiful parliamentarian, scrutinising constantly and ensuring that the House holds the Government to account for implementing the law that is passed.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:14 p.m.

Gosh, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am being flattered into submission. Perhaps this is an appropriate moment to say that the Government have also conceded on the amendment that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and I tabled saying that we need more Fridays on which to consider private Members’ Bills. That amendment has been accepted by the Government, and I understand that they are going to put forward a motion for debate on Monday that incorporates it. I can accept—

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton) - Hansard

Order. It is important that we stick to the amendments in front of us rather than what might be amendments elsewhere in future debates.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:25 p.m.

I shall use my best endeavours to comply with your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I think that was a useful walk around amendments 7 and 8. Let me refer briefly to the other amendments in my name, which deal with when the Bill has to be enacted. At the moment, clause 11, on the commencement, extent and short title, says that “section 8” and

“any power to make regulations”

will come in

“on the day on which this Act is passed”.

However, the clause also states that the

“remaining provisions of this Act come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations appoint.”

My amendment suggests that that should be two months after the day on which the Act is passed, again to ensure that the pressure is kept on the Government to bring the measures forward as quickly as possible. There is massive public demand for them, and I fear that if we do not tie the Government’s hands a bit more than the Bill does currently, we may have to rely, to a very great extent, on the muscle power of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire. I do not really think we want to have to do that, which is why I tabled the amendments. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Pete Wishart Portrait Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:26 p.m.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) on his commitment to ensuring that we have parity and fairness in private parking—it is matched only by his dexterity on the drum kit and his ability to keep time in the parliamentary rock band, MP4. This is a very fine Bill, and I will come to the code of practice on Third Reading, because it is really important that we get a better understanding of the Government’s intentions on the code of practice, which is a most important feature.

I support the right hon. Gentleman on new clause 1 and the subsequent amendment. It is very important to ensure that we get clarity on the appeals process. He is right that we are not covered by POPLA in Scotland. If a car parking operator is part of the independent parking community, we can appeal to the Independent Appeals Service, but that leaves a rather big gap in the opportunities in Scotland to appeal against some of these parking restrictions.

The right hon. Gentleman will know my interest in all this. The city of Perth is totally plagued by private parking companies, making life a misery for my constituents and the many people who come to visit that beautiful city. It is important that we get the Bill done and address this issue. On appeals, a member of staff who works in my office in Perth spends a good part of his day having to deal with complaints and assist people with appeals about the operation of parking companies in my constituency. Something has to be done. The procedure is that someone can appeal against private parking operators, but they are self-regulating. It is up to them whether they take it seriously and to make a ruling and a judgment if they think it is fair—if they think the appeal should be progressed—and then to make a response to the complainant. Clearly, that course of action is unsatisfactory.

This comes down to the British Parking Association’s set of regulations. It introduced POPLA in England and Wales several years ago, which, as I have said, does not cover Scotland. People can appeal to POPLA only if they have failed to secure a successful outcome in appealing to the private parking operator in the first place, and there is a £20 charge. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that the new independent appeals process that he outlines in the new clause will be free of charge. That is important, because I have seen some of these fines range to over £100—I think the top one I have seen, at the end of one of the very many threatening letters that are used by debt collection companies, was in the region of £140 to £160. The added cost of the appeal is another burden and feature that has to be endured by the hard-pressed motorist.

Break in Debate

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:51 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman recognises that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is a Member of great distinction and resourcefulness. It may just be possible that that is his intention. If it is his intention, he has certainly made the point with his customary eloquence and effectiveness. Yes, I think this would be an excellent moment for him to recognise that the point is made, and he could therefore graciously not press his amendments.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:51 p.m.

My amendment 8, which seeks to incorporate the phrase “best endeavour”, is completely nugatory in terms of legality or enforceability, and I take the point made by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) that “best endeavour” is a meaningless phrase. I therefore will not press the amendment. We would not want to litter our statute book with meaningless phrases, whether it be in the withdrawal Act or in this Bill.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:52 p.m.

That was elegantly done. Well, on that basis, I do not have much more to say. I have made the points I wanted to make.

With the Bill being improved in the way that has been proposed, I end by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire. This is past time, and the Bill will be welcomed in my constituency, by the constituent I mentioned, by me and, I am sure, by Members on both sides of the House.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Rishi Sunak) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:49 p.m.

It is wonderful when both sides of the House come together to support and put in place legislation that will make a practical difference to the day-to-day lives of the millions of people we represent. In that vein, I wholeheartedly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) on highlighting this issue, and on the tenacity and diligence with which he has brought the issue to the Floor of the House and to Committee. I pay tribute to him, and many people will be grateful for his efforts.

I will speak briefly now, and perhaps respond to hon. Members’ comments more generally on Third Reading. For now, I will limit my remarks to the various new clauses and amendments.

New clause 1 will appoint a single appeals service to create further clarity for consumers, giving a well-signposted route to appeal a private parking ticket. I am delighted on behalf of the Government to support the new clause. It and the associated amendments will ensure that there is a fair, transparent and consistent appeals service for motorists. This has been warmly welcomed by consumer groups and the parking industry alike.

I am pleased to tell the House that Steve Gooding, the director of the RAC Foundation, has said:

“we particularly welcome the proposal for a single, independent appeals service, which, together with a single, clear code of practice should establish a better, clearer framework and a level playing field that is fairer for all”.

The foundation has challenged the effectiveness of self-regulation in the parking industry. Only this week, it drew attention to the fact that in the second quarter of the financial year, private parking companies sought yet another record number of vehicle keeper details from the DVLA with which to pursue ordinary drivers and motorists.

The chief executive of one of the industry’s leading trade associations, the British Parking Association, has said that the association welcomes the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, commenting that they

“chime with our call for a single standard body, single code of practice and a single independent appeals service. This framework provides a unique opportunity to deliver greater consistency and consumer confidence”.

The BPA looks forward to pushing

“for a positive outcome for all.”

It is therefore with pleasure that the Government can support new clause 1.

I am also pleased to support, on behalf of the Government, amendments 1 to 6, which are pragmatic alterations that will support the Bill’s delivery through secondary legislation. They will give the Secretary of State the ability to delegate functions to non-public bodies, such as experts in auditing, as seems eminently sensible. They will clarify the role of the Secretary of State, in that he or she will have final approval of the code of practice and any subsequent alterations that will be submitted to Parliament. Finally, as my right hon. Friend stated, the amendments will expand the existing levy under the Bill to cover the cost of appointing and maintaining a single appeals service. The Government support all the amendments.

Let me turn briefly to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). I welcome his broad support for the Bill’s measures, and share his commitment to, and enthusiasm for, ensuring that the measures start making a practical difference to people as soon as possible. However, following the arguments that have already been made by various Members on both sides of the House, I, too, do not believe that the amendments are necessary. I can personally assure my hon. Friend that the Government and I are committed to creating and publishing a code of practice for the private parking industry as soon as is practically possible. I can confirm that considerable work has already gone into this, and I will happily walk the House through that in a second.

More generally, placing an arbitrary timeline on the process of developing a code and implementing the Bill would compromise our ability to make sure that the Bill comes into force in the way that we want it to, and with the impact that we all desire it to have. For example, a consultation with the public is necessary. Given the scale and volume of the correspondence to our postbags and email inboxes, which are already full regarding this topic, one can imagine that that consultation will be of extreme importance to many people whom we represent. They will want time to have their say, and we should make sure that that is possible. Furthermore, as has already been outlined, procurement practices might be required, and if they should be required, they will be subject to statutory timelines that need to be obeyed. Lastly, if the code of practice was going to put in place new provisions around such things as standard signage, standard forms of parking tickets or standard language, it would be appropriate for a suitable transition period to be put in place to allow companies to adjust to the new, fairer measures.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard

Taking all that the Minister is saying into account, what is his best estimate as to when these measures will actually be effective in law?

Rishi Sunak - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:59 p.m.

I cannot give my hon. Friend a precise answer to that question, simply because, in the first instance, I am not in control of the parliamentary process in the other place, as he will be aware.

However, what I can do for my hon. Friend and the House is to give some evidence as to the pace and commitment with which I and my team are working on this issue. My predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), had already, even before the Bill’s Second Reading, asked the director of the RAC Foundation to form a working group to start developing an outline code of practice. That working group contains multiple stakeholders from across the industry, including the two main trade associations—the BPA and the International Parking Community—the Welsh and Scottish Governments, and bodies such as People’s Parking, the RAC Foundation, the traffic penalty consortium, the British Retail Consortium, and the DVLA. The body has already met four times—each time extensively, for over two hours—to debate all the issues. I personally have spent time with the director of the RAC Foundation and the BPA, and I am shortly to meet the IPC. My officials have had more than 30 bilateral meetings with members of the working group. At my instigation, my officials have hosted a parking operator roundtable in the Department to fully engage the industry to help to develop the code of practice.

All that work has not been in vain. It has informed a draft code of practice, which has already been published and shared with the Public Bill Committee, and I would be delighted to place a copy of it in the Library for hon. Members to see. I hope that, collectively, this will give all hon. Members the reassurance they need that the Government and I are firmly committed to developing this code of practice, and ensuring that the legislation is enacted as quickly and practically as is possible.

Break in Debate

Sir Greg Knight - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 1:01 p.m.

May I just echo the Minister’s final comment? I, too, hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), having heard the pledges of support for the Bill and the clear expressions of good will, particularly from Front Benchers, will not press his amendments to a vote.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard

I am not going to do so.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 1:01 p.m.

Thank you. It is very good to have clarity for the Chair.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Clause 6

Delegation of functions

Amendments made: 1, page 3, line 14, leave out from “may” to “functions” in line 20 and insert “—

(a) enter into an agreement with a public authority authorising the authority to perform any functions of the Secretary of State under sections1 to4 (other than the function of laying a code or alteration before Parliament);

(b) enter into an agreement with a person authorising that person to perform any”.

This amendment enables the Secretary of State to delegate functions relating to the investigation of breaches of the parking code to bodies that are not public authorities.

Amendment 2, page 3, line 28, leave out “public authority which is” and insert “person”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.

Amendment 3, page 3, line 34, leave out “the final version of”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 5.

Amendment 4, page 3, line 35, at end insert “for approval”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 5.

Amendment 5, page 3, line 36, leave out “The” and insert

“Once the Secretary of State has approved the code or alteration, the” .—(Sir Greg Knight.)

Amendments 3 to 5 make clear that, where the Secretary of State has delegated the function of preparing the parking code, the Secretary of State must approve the final version of the parking code (or any alteration to it) before it is laid before Parliament.

Clause 7

Levy for recovery of administrative and investigation costs

Amendment made: 6, page 4, line 3, at end insert—

“() where the Secretary of State has entered into an agreement with a person under section (Appeals against parking charges) (appeals against parking charges), the establishment and maintenance by the person of a service for dealing with parking appeals (within the meaning of that section).” —(Sir Greg Knight.)

The effect of this amendment is that, where the Secretary of State enters into an agreement with a person for the person to deal with appeals against parking charges (see NC1), the costs of establishing and maintaining that parking appeals service may be defrayed out of the proceeds of the levy imposed on accredited parking associations.

Third Reading

Queen’s consent signified.

Break in Debate

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 1:09 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. These examples are all, clearly, very distressing for the motorist concerned, as are the language and the threats that are often used—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk). It is, however, important to remember that these companies have no legal power to fine motorists. That is something only the police, local councils and those enforcing railway byelaws can do. As a result, some private parking companies deliberately make their parking charges look very similar to official penalty charge notices. When the police or the local authority issue a fine, it will often be labelled as a “PCN”—a penalty charge notice—and may come in an official yellow cellophane wrapper. Some private companies are now using similar packaging and are even labelling their notices with the word, “PCN”, but this time it stands for parking charge notice. Often the term enforcement is used, but these companies do not have any enforcement powers.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 1:10 p.m.

None of these companies would be able to operate in this way if they were not able to get access to the DVLA database. Why is nothing being done about that?

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 1:11 p.m.

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, when this Bill becomes law, as I hope it will, that is precisely what it will do: it will take away the right of a rogue company to seek vehicle keeper details, thereby putting it out of business.

Parking (Code of Practice) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Christopher Chope Excerpts
Friday 2nd February 2018

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 12:55 p.m.

I certainly would condemn that, and I will share an example with the House shortly of a similar case that I regard as outrageous.

Today, we have the opportunity to tackle this issue. I know that the worst abuses feature in the emails and postbags of all Members of Parliament. Not only my constituents in East Yorkshire but motorists right across the country are angry and calling for action.

One such motorist is Mr O’Keefe. He was driving in a private industrial estate, searching for a particular outlet that he was having difficulty finding, when he stopped in an empty lay-by for 15 seconds to check his satellite navigation settings. It transpired that he was caught by a passing security van equipped with a camera, and a week later he received a ticket for £100 for stopping in breach of a sign situated further back on the road that he had passed at 30 mph. The parking company agrees with his version of events—it accepts that he was stationary for only about 15 seconds—but when he made a complaint and then appealed to the Independent Appeals Service, he was fobbed off in both cases and he continues to receive threatening letters.

Even homeowners have been hit, as the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) said in his intervention. A case was brought to my attention concerning residents in a Salford block of flats to whom over 200 tickets were issued for parking in their own car park in just one month. They were given a day’s notice to display a newly designed permit by the management firm, which posted warning letters and the new permits through residents’ letter boxes only one working day before it enforced the new regime. Some of the residents were away on holiday and others did not receive the new parking permit, but they found that their vehicles, parked in their own dedicated spots, had a penalty of £100 stuck to the windscreen. At least one resident who had been away on holiday came back to find tickets to the value of £2,000 on his car. The dispute is ongoing.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 12:56 p.m.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that all this injustice is being facilitated by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which enables these rogue parking enforcers to find out the identity of the owners of such vehicles?

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 12:56 p.m.

That is a fair point. My Bill seeks to deal with that, and I will come on to it in a moment. If we have a statutory code of conduct, certainly consequences will flow for a company not adhering to it.

Break in Debate

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey (Wells) (Con) - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 1:48 p.m.

I am aware that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) is poised to introduce his Bill, which addresses an important issue. Also the Minister, to whom I shall shortly be acting as Parliamentary Private Secretary, will be cross with me if I give her cause to have to reduce her no doubt excellent speech by too much. There may even be some colleagues who are in a rush to get home because their own parking ticket expires soon.

As we have heard from colleagues across the House, this is a very good Bill, which I am pleased to support. However, a number of concerns have been raised by other Members that I also want to underline. The fact that private parking companies use the PCN abbreviation as “parking charge notice”—compared with the “penalty charge notice” issued by the police and civil authorities—is wilfully misleading and should be stopped. We should also look at the way in which private parking companies are allowed to design the waterproof wrappers for tickets, the tickets themselves and the language on them. There is a clear attempt to make these tickets look like they have come from the civil authorities or from the police.

In my experience and the experience of many of my constituents, signage in private car parks is inconsistent. At best, that could be down to poor maintenance or a mistake. At worst, it could be argued that the poor signage is again a deliberate act to confuse or deceive.

Another development that I have found unhelpful is car parks where people can park only with an app. Some of these apps are absolutely excellent. It is not the case that people can park in car parks on the Great Western Railway network only by using the APCOA app, although that app is very good; many Members will have had experience of using it. That is not so in other car parks, one of which belongs to a very fine hotel in Bristol that insisted that people used an app to pay for their parking.

Some years earlier, when the company was in a very different guise, I had used an online parking facility with that company and given over my car details. I could no longer remember any of the log-in details, and it turned out that there was no facility for me to reset my membership or to be able to access the app. However, because I had entered the car park, I would be charged, and if I was unable to pay through the app, then I would have to accept the ticket and appeal it. The fact that the company could do that was quite extraordinary, especially as I had entered the car park and incurred the charge before any of this became clear to me. That could have been a unique and extraordinary happening experienced by almost nobody else, but it does perhaps indicate how unregulated and unreasonable the private parking industry can sometimes be.

What underlines all the things we have heard today better than anything else is that in all our experience when dealing with casework, we have heard time and again that when these private parking companies are challenged, they capitulate almost immediately. Very rarely do they stand their ground, and that indicates exactly how thin the ice they are skating on is. I agree with colleagues across the House who have said that access to DVLA data is, very clearly, a privilege for companies that behave correctly and should not be allowed for those who repeatedly behave very badly indeed. I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 1:54 p.m.

I have two or three questions for the Minister.

I have already mentioned to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) my concern about the DVLA’s inadequate behaviour in this respect. I do not see why the DVLA itself does not stop giving access to its database to rogue parking companies. This Bill proposes to deal with that indirectly through members of parking associations rather than directly with the parking companies concerned.

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 1:52 p.m.

May I correct my hon. Friend? My understanding is that the DVLA does refuse to give access to rogue parking companies, so the threshold beyond which a company is regarded as “rogue” is perhaps what needs changing. That is the point.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 1:52 p.m.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for correcting me. In that case, may I challenge the Minister to explain why so many of these rogue parking companies are continuing to operate in the disgusting way that we have heard about during this debate?

Will my hon. Friend the Minister ensure, when this Bill goes forward, that we also introduce a provision ensuring that there should be equal treatment of all vehicles in private car parks? In my local authority area of Christchurch there is a lot of resentment about the fact that when, for example, Travellers invade the car park, they are treated with impunity, whereas people who may have just overstayed by 20 minutes find themselves having the book thrown at them. Can we ensure that the Bill is used as a vehicle for getting equal treatment for all motorists who park in private car parks? Will my hon. Friend say when he expects the provisions of this Bill, and the secondary legislation, to be enacted, so that people who are concerned about this issue know the deadline for implementing what we in this House want to do?

If my hon. Friend gives satisfactory answers to those questions, I hope that the Bill can make progress.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Rishi Sunak) - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 1:54 p.m.

Nobody leaves their house because they want to go and do some parking; parking is simply a means to an end, and it should be as easy as possible. The millions of people across the country who use private parking facilities every day deserve a system that is fair, transparent and consistent, but as we have heard from Members on both sides of the House, it is clear that the current private parking system has at times failed each and every one of these tests.

I join hon. Members across the House in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) on bringing the Bill to its Second Reading. It rightly seeks to address an issue that comes up time and again in all our postbags and inboxes. As we have heard, there is currently no standardised, central and independent regulation of private parking operators. Today, there are two different trade associations, each with its own code of practice, and, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) mentioned, the industry is largely self-regulating.

That has led to a range of issues for hard-working constituents doing their best to abide by the rules as they go about their day-to-day business. As we heard, people are being charged unreasonable amounts of money for what are clearly very minor and honest mistakes. My Department has received a case where someone accidentally mistyped their registration number into a parking system, and for the sake of a 50p ticket received a £45 fine in the post—90 times the cost of the original parking ticket.

As we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Solihull (Julian Knight) and for Clacton (Giles Watling), also problematic is poor signage. To park in a private car park is essentially to enter into a contract, but signs are often poorly lit and have unreasonably small text, meaning that drivers are completely unaware of the contract they have just entered into. As my hon. Friends the Members for Havant (Alan Mak), for Torbay (Kevin Foster), for Wells (James Heappey) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) set out, however, unjustifiable charges and poor signage are not the only problems facing motorists.